Danvers firms forgo license for chemicals
Blast site rebuilding unlikely
DANVERS -- The owners of an ink-and-paint factory that exploded in November, severely damaging 270 houses and businesses, have agreed to give up their license to store thousands of gallons of chemicals on the site, effectively eliminating any chance that they will rebuild there soon, the town manager said yesterday.
The decision by CAI of Georgetown and Arnel Co. of Danvers was disclosed as the Board of Selectmen prepared for a hearing next Tuesday on revoking or limiting the license.
"They're surrendering," said Wayne P. Marquis, Danvers town manager. "They indicated to me that they didn't want to put the neighbors and the town through this whole difficult hearing."
Lawyers for the two companies could not be reached yesterday. Company officials also could not be reached.
Each company owns 50 percent of the site, which is less than 1 acre. A succession of owners have had a license to store chemicals on the land since 1944.
The two companies sent separate letters to Marquis last week, stating their intent to give up their flammable-storage license. But they do not admit any liability for the blast, which state and federal officials say was probably caused by vapors from flammable chemicals stored in the plant.
Residents, many of whom have not yet returned to their damaged homes, pressured Danvers officials to revoke the license.
Some declared victory yesterday, saying their neighborhood will be safer without the plant.
"It's a sigh of relief," said David Marcou, 34, who lived behind the plant. "I had reservations about rebuilding, but I still own the land. I'm not sure anyone would be jumping at the chance to buy it from me if that plant could rebuild."
Another resident said the firms spared residents the pain of reliving the Nov. 22 explosion, which set off a tremor traveling 25 miles.
"It's a smart move" by the companies, said Andrea Daley, who has yet to rebuild her family's house. "Emotions are still very raw. . . . They did the right thing."
The decision may not have been entirely magnanimous, at least on the part of one company.
In its letter to the town, CAI questioned whether the company would be treated fairly at Tuesday's hearing.
The automatic renewal in May of the companies' annual permit, which under state law does not require a public hearing, angered local residents. A heated public discussion followed, a point CAI cited in its letter.
"Several of these speakers appear to have personally adjudicated the matter, based on preliminary reports and without any evidentiary input, which leads the company to the conclusion that the likelihood of an impartial hearing, which focuses on the merits, has been compromised," the letter states.
Selectman Michael Powers, the board's chairman, disputed that assertion yesterday.
"It will be as fair as possible," Powers said of the hearing, which will still be held. "People's emotions about this [license] have run very high, but I personally made every effort for them to understand we would decide this on the law, not emotion."
Although the two firms still own the land once occupied by the factory, Marquis does not expect them to rebuild, based on his conversations with them.
"Everyone, including them, has been through a very difficult experience," he said.
The explosion, dubbed one of the worst industrial accidents in state history, tore apart Danversport, a tiny neighborhood on the Peabody line. Of 70 families displaced by the blast, 30 have yet to move back into their houses, which are in various stages of repair or construction.
"We're pulling out all the stops to get our new house finished," said Janet Lettich, a 26-year resident whose house had to be torn down. "We have to be out of the apartment we're living in by the end of the month."
The US Chemical Safety Board, a federal panel that investigated the blast, cited numerous safety violations inside the plant in preliminary findings released in May. The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the companies $31,000 last month for 23 safety violations found in the plant.
Both CAI and Arnel disputed the findings of each agency. Arnel ceased operations after the explosion.
In May, the state fire marshal and state Department of Environmental Protection launched a pilot program to inspect 40 plants this year that are licensed to store chemicals or chemical waste.
State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said yesterday that he did not know how many inspections have been conducted statewide, but added that "we're on target to meet our goal ."
Kathy McCabe can be reached at email@example.com